Notes on fashion, style and culture

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Are you a shopaholic?

Today's Daily Mail has an interview with Girl's Aloud member Nicola Roberts -  in which she declares:

“I’d rather choose Louboutins over therapy to cope with bullying.”

Apparently, Nicola  has overcome the damage done to her self esteem by the taunts declaring her ‘the ugly ginger one’ from Girls Aloud, not through years of introspective therapy sessions, but days spent shopping. In the interview she reveals how she'd prefer to spend money on retail therapy – in the form of Christian Louboutin heels – than on the real actual therapy to deal with her issues.
“It’s too bloody expensive,” she says of the counselling she sought to tackle the years of bullying by the media and public while in the band. “I’d rather sit there all night thinking until I couldn’t think any more, then reward myself the next day with a pair of Louboutins”, she declares.

This got me thinking about the different types of shopping – shopping beyond it's basic function – that is, to buy items that we need; but what happens when shopping starts to serve other functions – in this case – shopping to make us feel better. Nobody is beyond buying a nice new dress or a piece of jewellery to cheer them up on a lunch break or a Saturday afternoon. But when does it go from an innocent splurge to cheer yourself up, to becoming unhealthy – an addiction even? Shopaholism, compulsive shopping or to give it it's technical term oniomania – literally ‘sale insanity’ – is something I have (jokingly I hope) been accused of on more than one occasion. But how serious a phenomenon is it? Who suffers from it and why? And what can you do about it?

The Controversy of Shopping Addiction

Like other behavioral addictions, shopping addiction is steeped in controversy. Many experts balk at the idea that excessive spending can constitute an addiction. They are of the belief that there has to be a psychoactive substance which produces symptoms such as physical tolerance and withdrawal for an activity to be a true addiction.
There is also some disagreement among professionals about whether compulsive shopping should be considered an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), impulse control disorder (like pathological gambling), mood disorder (like depression), or addiction. It has been suggested that, along with kleptomania (compulsive stealing) and binge-eating disorder (BED), it be viewed as an impulsive-compulsive spectrum disorder.

How Is Shopping Addiction Like Other Addictions?

There are however, several characteristics that shopping ‘addiction’ shares with other addictions. As with other addictions, shopping addicts become preoccupied with spending, and devote significant time and money to the activity. Actual spending is important to the process of shopping addiction; window shopping does not constitute an addiction, and the addictive pattern is actually driven by the process of spending money.
As with other addictions, shopping addiction is highly ritualized and follows a typically addictive pattern of thoughts about shopping, planning shopping trips, and the shopping act itself, often described as pleasurable, ecstatic even, and as providing relief from negative feelings. Finally, the shopper crashes, with feelings of disappointment, particularly with  themselves. Also, while alcoholics will hide their bottles, shopaholics will hide their purchases.

Compulsive shoppers use shopping as a way of escaping negative feelings, such as depression, anxiety, boredom, self-critical thoughts, and anger. Unfortunately, the escape is short-lived. The purchases are often simply hoarded unused, and compulsive shoppers will then begin to plan the next spending spree. Most shop alone, although some shop with others who enjoy it. Generally, it will lead to embarrassment to shop with people who don’t share this type of enthusiasm for shopping.

What is compulsive shopping?

We all shop for many reasons but the addictive shopper buys to relieve anxiety. Over time, the buying creates a dysfunctional lifestyle as more and more of their focus revolves around the act of shopping and sometimes the cover-up. What differentiates shopaholism from healthy shopping is the compulsive, destructive and chronic nature of the buying.

Shopaholics, when they are feeling low or out of sorts, shop for a  lift. The shopping becomes a tonic. They go out and buy, to get a high, or get a ‘rush’ just like a drug addict or alcoholic. Shopping addiction tends to affect more women than men, often buying things they do not need. Holiday seasons can trigger shopping binges among those who are not compulsive the rest of the year. However, many shopping addicts go on binges all year long and may be compulsive about buying certain items, such as shoes, kitchen items or clothing; some will buy anything – and hoard.

Women with this compulsive disorder often have racks of clothes and possessions with the price tags still attached which have never been used. They will go to a shopping centre or a high street with the intention of buying one or two items and come home with bags and bags of purchases. In some cases shopalolics have an emotional ‘black out’ and do not remember even buying the articles. If their family or friends begin to complain about their purchases, they will often shop in secret and hide the things they buy – in extreme circumstances, even destroy their purchases. Denial, as with other addictive behaviours, is a common component of the problem. And as a result of the nature of shopaholism, the addict can find themselves in dire financial difficulties. Along with the emotional toil – feelings of guilt and shame – brought on by the patterns of lying and concealment, shopaholics can find their relationships with those closest to them can become extremely strained. This causes further mental anguish to the addict, who, now entrapped in a vicious circle, becomes even more reliant on their addiction as a source of comfort.

Signs you might be a shopaholic:

Spending over budget: Often a person will spend well over their budget and get into deep financial trouble. Whereas a normal person will recognise their financial limitations and realise when an item is ‘out of their reach’, someone with shopaholism will not recognise the boundaries of a budget.

Compulsive buying: When a person with a shopping addiction goes shopping, they often compulsively buy – they will go into a shop looking for one pair of shoes and come out with ten.

It is a chronic problem:  Shopaholism is an ongoing problem. It is more than two or three months of the year, and more than a once-a-year Christmas spree.

Hiding the problem: Shopaholics will hide their purchases because they do not want to face the critical reaction of those closest to them. Shopaholics will sometimes have separate accounts to hide their spending.

A vicious circle: Some people will take their purchases back because they feel guilty. That guilt can then trigger another shopping spree.  In these people, debt may not be an issue as they are consistently returning items out of guilt – but a problem still exists.

• Impaired relationships: Problems within relationships can occur because the shopaholic spends significant amounts of time away shopping, covers up debt with deception, and emotionally and physically starts to isolate themselves from others as they become preoccupied with their behavior.

• Clear consequences:  As with other addictive behaviours, it is less to do with the amount of shopping undertaken, or the amount spent, but with the clear detrimental effect it has on the shoppers life. If there is a pattern in the behaviour, which has clear negative consequences, and your shopping is controlling you rather than the other way around, you may likely be a shopaholic.

For the causes of shopping addiction, and how to deal with it, see Part 2

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